Sunday, 26 June 2022

“A Mildly Terrifying Nostalgic Treat” - Taking a Humorous Look at the Cool but Deadly 1970s


Unrelenting nostalgics like myself do tend to look back to the 1970s through deeply rose-tinted spectacles.

So, in the interests of balance, let me draw your attention to this hilarious article from the British satirical website The Poke, listing what it says were 40 of the most deadly hazards that we somehow managed to survive during that decade, allowing us against all odds to live to tell the tale today.

I have to admit that, in retrospect, some of these send a shiver down my spine. But at the time it didn’t feel at all risky to suspend a bathroom ceiling heater over a tub full of water, nor to drunkenly attempt to carve the roast with an erratic electric carver which exercised a frankly astonishing display of freewill throughout the entire operation.

They could of course have mentioned the play park too.

Take a look by clicking here.


Friday, 27 May 2022

These Days are Ours - Remembering The Fonz and Happy Days

If the mid 1970s could be said to have thrown up a hero who truly reflected the mood of the age, it may well have been one Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli, better known to those of us who were there as "The Fonz".

The Fonz was not a real-life person, but a TV character in a popular American sitcom called Happy Days, played by Henry Winkler who himself was a good decade older than his part. The series was launched on ABC in the United States in January 1974, and came to our screens here in the UK in October 1976.

Arnold's Drive-In

Paradoxically, despite being a seventies' icon The Fonz, or Fonzie as he was sometimes called, did not belong to that era at all. Happy Days was set in 1950s Milwaukee, and centred upon a clean-cut young all-American man by the name of Richie Cunningham whose best (if somewhat unlikely) pal was the suave, leather-clad, high school dropout and biker Fonzarelli. When they and their mutual friends hung out at Arnold's Drive-In, as was oft their wont, there was nary a platformed shoe nor a flared loon pant ever to be seen. When Fonzie punched the jukebox (no need for a coin when you're as cool as he), it would be the sound of Elvis or some other contemporary that would issue forth. Even the addition to the cast in 1978 of glam rocker Suzi Quatro - in character as Leather Tuscadero, the leader of an all-girl band – did nothing to upset the '50s theme.

And the paradox was that this was precisely the thing which lent the sitcom its 1970s appeal. However unique and original the glam period of the early seventies may have been, one of its oddly recurring themes was a kind of faux fifties nostalgia - not so much a faithful re-enactment of that seminal period which heralded the birth of rock culture, but rather a slightly kitschy send-up of it. Think Mud, Showaddywaddy or The Rubettes and you'll get where I'm coming from. Happy Days was the 1950s as seen through the eyes of 1970s youth. We loved it precisely because it wasn't quite real.

Tough guy

As tough guys go, The Fonz wasn't The Terminator or even Dirty Harry. He was hard because he told us he was hard, and the absurdly exaggerated respect shown to him by those all around him served to emphasise the point quite hilariously. Like the coolest kids in any 1970s classroom, the awe in which he was held was enforced through personality more than by menace.

Happy Days, and The Fonz in particular, achieved cult status in its day. Wikipedia notes that it attempted "to honestly depict a wistful look back at adolescence". Whether it was the drive-in or the church youth club or the disco, the dynamics differ little between the generations.

The eleventh and final season of the show wound up in the summer of 1984, but it will long be remembered with fondness for the important contribution it made to the 1970s story.

Suzi Quatro as Leather Tuscadero

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

The Best Year Of Our Lives and 1000 Memories of 1976 Now Available in Hardcover

Following the announcement by Amazon's KDP Publishing that it is now able to publish titles in hardcover, both The Best Year Of Our Lives and 1000 Memories of 1976 are now available for purchase in this exciting new format.

I have deliberately kept the prices as low as possible (although Amazon itself seems to be arbitrarily resetting the price of the former on an almost daily basis). The prototype copies that I have ordered for myself would suggest that there are no quality issues to be concerned about.

Please click here for more information, and for details of all my titles.

Sunday, 2 January 2022

When the Music Came Alive


To those of us who were yet to reach our teens back in the very early 1970s, bands like Humble Pie meant very little. Certainly we'd seen their names in the columns of the music papers, and the scribblings of the bigger kids on the school desks gave some hint that there was a world of rock somewhere out there which seemed to run parallel to the one we knew and loved, but generally it was dismissed as the posing and posturing of a pretentious elite. If it didn't wear tinsel and appear regularly on Top of the Pops then to all intents and purposes it wasn't really there.

When guitarist Peter Frampton quit the band in 1971 to pursue a solo career, most of the kids at my primary school would have been underwhelmed even if had we had known. He may have been some kind of teen idol in the 60s, but this was the 70s after all, and still as yet our teens were but a distant dream. With T. Rex and Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep ringing in our ears, the esoteric fringes of the rock medium were of no concern to any of our gender who couldn't grow a tash.

That all changed in 1976. Not so much the tash bit, although one or two of my secondary school mates had by then embarked, albeit half-heartedly (and usually quite pathetically) upon that same endeavour. But Frampton, from somewhere out of nowhere, suddenly exploded onto the scene like nothing we had ever known. Show Me the Way was more than just an original, pulsating, energetic rock song, expertly exploiting new technologies to create a whole new sound which superbly complemented his exciting (but not at all esoteric) guitar work. It was also a liberating, almost breathless and hugely optimistic sound, laying down a vibe for 1976 so passionate and assertive that it would live with me, and many others like me, forever. Albums weren't really our thing in those days, but Frampton Comes Alive! was a must, as was rushing out and booking a ticket for the solitary London gig.

Album of the Year

The top-selling LP was voted was voted Album of the Year by readers of the influential Rolling Stone magazine in 1976, and 36 years on it was still being heralded by the same august publication as the third greatest live album of all time. The accompanying article declared: "He was loved by teenage girls, and their older brothers. He owned the year 1976 like nobody else in rock."

Frampton Comes Alive! yielded two more hits in the form of Baby I Love Your Way and Do You Feel Like We Do? Some beautiful footage on him performing to packed stadia in the US in the wake of his 1976 success is freely available on YouTube.

Later years saw Frampton perform a hefty catalogue of new work, including an interesting collaboration with his old schoolpal David Bowie in which he contributed to the latter's album Never Let Me Down and played on the accompanying Glass Spider tour. Sadly in 2019 he revealed that he had been diagnosed with Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM), a progressive muscular disorder, and that he would play five farewell concerts in the UK the following year. Heartbreakingly, they had to be cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Cockney Rebel Connections Radio Show Unearths a Gem


When I had the honour of putting a question to music legend Steve Harley during a recent radio show, I asked him whether he considered himself to be a seventies' artist who had managed to adapt his routine in order to keep going, or whether he saw himself as one who had simply begun at that time and who is continually evolving.

It was slightly mischievous because I knew the answer that he would give me, and he didn't disappoint. Even if it were true, no artist still wanting to make a living would announce himself as belonging to a bygone era. But in Harley's case the argument is incontestable. Some of his best material was written and recorded long after that glorious decade had hung up its sequinned loon pants (Ballerina, Irresistible, Heartbeat Like Thunder, Star for a Week, When I'm With You, The Lighthouse, A Friend for Life and Ordinary People to name just a few), and he continues to play to packed audiences comprising an unyieldingly faithful following at a rate which would be impressive for a man much younger than his 70 years. He is, in every sense, a developing artist. His voice today is, in his own words, "more emotional, more true to itself, more honest". And anyone who has seen the man perform live, as I have had the privilege of doing so many times, will testify that there is an innate timelessness about the entire experience.

But of course, his seventies' material spoke to me in a wholly different way – not because it was necessarily better, but because I was of "that" age when he recorded it. So whilst A Friend for Life, just to give one example, may stand favourable comparison with any of his earlier numbers, it is merely a brilliant song. It was not written about me, as Mr. Soft, Mr. Raffles and Judy Teen were written solely about me and the things I was going through during my formative years. In other words those special memories that I hold to my heart are down not to what he was doing in the 1970s, but to what I was doing.

Nocturnal defiance

Which is why I found episode 98 of the Cockney Rebel Connections radio show, featuring priceless if understandably unpolished audio footage (yes, "footage" is the correct noun - I checked!) of a 1976 interview with Peter Powell at Radio Luxembourg, uniquely engaging.

Stewart Griffin
For those of a certain age, Radio Luxembourg evokes fond memories of surreptitiously listening to a hand-held transistor under the bed covers in the wee small hours, when we were supposed to have been deep in slumber long before that time in preparation for the next day at school. My friend and fellow Rebel fan Stewart Griffin, whose unfailingly excellent show CRC is, is of a certain age. Which is why his recollections of this weekly act of nocturnal defiance tally precisely with my own.

The "footage" came by courtesy of a 45-year-old second-hand cassette recording, hence the slightly erratic sound quality. In fact the process of conveying audio from radio to cassette tape in the 1970s was itself the stuff of legend, typically involving both machines being located in close proximity to one another to ensure the best possible transmission of sound, along with the enforced silence of everybody else in the room for the entire duration of the broadcast. Background coughs were an irritation, if in retrospect an integral and organic feature of the whole operation. When a tape malfunctioned and became entangled in the mechanism of the cassette, the remedial process involved a pencil (don't ask!) and a whole lot of patience. In the imperfect, but eminently listenable product which the DJ has preserved against all odds for our enjoyment there is a gorgeous authenticity.

But the interview is itself vintage Harley, shocking self-confidence ("It's my voice, it's my song – take it or leave it!") and commendable humility somehow rolled into one as only a rising young superstar in the seventies, supremely comfortable in his own creative skin, could be expected to pull off. With his (then) latest single and LP, both entitled Love's a Prima Donna, providing the hook for the discussion, the singer-songwriter gives us a fascinating insight into the things that informed his emergence as one of the great lyrical and musical innovators of the day.

A calculated risk

Steve Harley

1976 was, of course, the year that Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel recorded Here Comes the Sun, the old George Harrison classic. According to Harley it was "a bit of a calculated risk" but as the long, hot summer bedded in it could not have been better timed. It was a clever, original interpretation of an already long-established masterpiece - always a risky venture but so very gratifying when it comes off. It came to define the year, and he still uses it as an opener at his gigs all these years on.

Perhaps the most instructive observation from an interview which was beguiling from start to finish was that, even back in those far off days, Harley considered his strength to lie in the special relationship which he felt he had with his audiences. He didn't care much for music critics ("Everything that's criticised, it's too late - the artist has already done his job"). Then, as now, his passion was to perform for those who appreciated him. Those who didn't were characters in another story, actors in another play - why was that any concern of his?

Any residual awkwardness which may have afflicted me after putting my question during the recent phone-in was truly swept away when the next caller asked him whether he regretted not having received the acclaim she felt he deserved. It was intended as a compliment, but inevitably came across in such a way that suggested he had somehow missed the boat. Nothing could be further from the truth. He has filled the Royal Albert Hall, packs most of the many venues that he plays ("You only sell out if the audience trusts you") and enjoys a following of whose fierce loyalty and dedication any artist would be proud. That he is on first name terms with so many of his fans should be acknowledged as a tribute to the love he has for them, not mistaken to be indicative that they are few in number. No other performer, to my knowledge, is as intimately engaged with his fan base as is Steve Harley.

No contradiction

Harley is, always has been and remains an evolving artist. There is no contradiction between recognising, and enjoying, that fact and reminiscing about the music and the memories that he gave us in the wake of glam back in the heady days of the mid-seventies. His music today sets new standards, he's not a man who believes in going backwards.

Whilst any comparison in terms of achievement would be absurd, I do find inspiration as a writer in this perennial artist's attitude to his work, to the way in which he has clearly identified his objectives and to his desire to reach his intended audience. As he tells Peter Powell, "I like to think I'm respected where it matters most - as long as you know me, what else matters?"

"There's an element of integrity to what I do," he continues. "I'm not going to do disco, just because it is in fashion. I don't follow trends, I'd rather create trends."

There is no greater achievement than to be true to oneself, to convey the sound of one's own soul. What a fine example Steve Harley has set, from the mid-'70s when we first came to know him right through to the present day.

To hear the 1976 Radio Luxembourg interview with Steve Harley in full, please click here.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Introducing My New Author Page


Anyone looking for a change of scenery might wish to take a look at my new Author Page, where all of my current works are featured side by side for ease of reference. It features a handy contact form for enquiries and will run a regular blog featuring longer articles than would be the norm at this site. Please feel free to take a look by clicking here.